"I started nursing in 1987 as a naive 18 year old … actually being on a ward for the first time frightened me. Never mind talking to strangers I didn’t really know but the fact that they allowed me and trusted me to help them with their basic nursing needs I found bizarre. Here I was a young girl with a white uniform on and overnight a patients perception and trust in me changed… little did they know at the time that I was probably more scared of being on that ward than they were!!
My first bed bath I undertook I will always remember … not sure if the staff nurse at the time did it on purpose but I had never witnessed as much faecal matter …actually I had never witnessed anyone else’s faecal matter at that point in my life … and here I was gently cleaning, trying not to show emotion on my face to the frail, elderly lady looking back at me, who was extremely embarrassed and upset by it all. Once I completed the task with the staff nurse, I ran to the toilet and vomited… not even sure I could carry on the rest of the day, let alone come back another day or make a career out of it… but I did and would not have it any other way. It has taught me compassion, patience and even tenacity to be an advocate for every patient I have cared for."
Back in 2002 my career as a Nurse begun. “Right Nicola, there’s the keys and the unit bleep, I will see you in the morning” and my Manager left the ward. I was a shy 21 year old and had only been a Registered Nurse for a number of weeks, this was it, I’ve got to put all of that training into action, I felt quietly confident but extremely nervous!
Towards the end of my shift I was alerted that a Patient had passed away. The death was expected but all staff felt saddened as they had built up good relationships with the patient and his wife who stayed with him around the clock. I gave my condolences to the patients wife and explained the bereavement process. As the Nurse in charge of the ward I felt it was appropriate to prepare the patient for the mortuary and I also felt that this would be a good learning opportunity for a Student Nurse at the time. I tried my best to stay professional and put that ‘brave face on’ that Nurses have to do on most working days.
Several days later, the patients wife came to the ward with a thank you card, big bouquet of flowers and chocolates she , I was humbled for this gesture at what was a very upsetting time for the patients wife and family. I was talking to the patients wife when said “Nicola, I forgot to ask, did you find my teeth in my husband’s room?”, I replied with “No I’m sorry I did not, the only teeth in the room was your husbands, which I put in when I was preparing him for the mortuary”. The patients wife face froze and she went on to say “My husband hasn’t wore teeth for years!!”……….. Oh my goodness, I could feel my face blushing, I wanted the ground to swallow me up “I am so so sorry!”, I said. The patients wife begun to laugh in hysterics and said “that has made my day”. I had to go to the Mortuary and retrieve the teeth which was a very scary experience for someone who hadn’t visited a mortuary before.
On reflection, this scenario could have been very different. As a nurse we are human, we feel things and can make errors in judgements, it’s what we do to rectify and support a situation that makes the difference. This story always puts a smile on my face and has reiterated why as Nurses we need to be compassionate, kind and caring to all patients and their families.